A couple of years ago writing here I used to constantly bemoan the lack of good seafood in Ireland.
The situation was a complete joke, for an island perched on the edge of the Atlantic, with most people doing well to get a bit of plasticky frozen cod from the local chipper as their fish intake for the week.
Its almost as if the foodie entrepreneurs all woke up one morning and thought "Holy shit – maybe Irish people might like something other than a token piece of salmon on the menu?"
Continuing this most welcome trend is a new spot slap bang in the middle of town, just off Grafton Street, called Catch 22. And while they have one single dish (beef and Guinness pie) reserved for the disgruntled partner who doesn't like fish, the rest of the menu is dedicated to all that swims.
Located in the same spot where Burritos and Blues used to be, they've done wonders with the interior, creating a 55-seater restaurant out of a very slim space while at the same time not making it feel cramped.
Indeed, with Featherblade replacing another burrito bar around the corner, you do wonder if the Irish national dish (the burrito) is reaching saturation point? But that's a story for another day.
I'd describe the food and the atmosphere as fast casual, meaning on a busy night with people coming and going they could easily serve 200 people – and I have to say, the economics of that feel a lot better to me than burritos and the slim margins that come with them.
But again, that's a story for another day...
While ordering we were served some deep-fried whitebait. A delicious little dish to pick at, and the cynic in me would say perfectly timed to coincide with the drinks menu, given their salty nature.
I started with the mussels, which are an acid test of any seafood restaurant given the simplicity with which they need to be cooked and the propensity for most places to balls them up. Mine were pretty good and the sauce was superb but the mussels themselves were small. I love the big plump juicy ones and each mouthful here just felt small.
The other starter was-deep fried calamari, which was pretty much spot on. So many places get it wrong but served with lemon and a simple dip here, it was perfectly cooked.
Our mains arrived in no time and – continuing the theme – were superb.
My burger was crispy, with a great bun and not too messy to eat. I longed for the fish pie my uncle was eating, though, in yet another tragic case of ordering the wrong thing and suffering from insane food envy. But the star of our table was the sea trout special, eaten with a compliment thrown in consistently between each forkful – and those who ate it were still taking about it a week later.
Catch 22 is excellent, and the food is prepared with class; the turnover is quick but the service is precise, super friendly and never rushed.
With great pubs like Keogh's across the road this is a place to come and grab a quick bit of dinner between pints, or a place to stop laden with shopping bags for lunch and a glass of white. The outdoor terrace is also heated, and is a superb place for people watching.
My only slight complaint? Too much of the menu is deep fried. That's leaning on the old way of cooking fish in Ireland, and what we're used to and what the customer tends to be familiar with. The chefs and the produce in here are good enough to close up the deep fryer and cook fish plain and simple.
They do it with half the menu already, which is superb, so why ruin the most natural thing in the world by constantly battering it and throwing it in hot oil?
But hey. If it's what people want, etc.
What's important here is that this place is well worth a visit – give it a couple of years and we might even become known for seafood, with tourists coming for our wonderful fish. Who would have though it on an island surrounded by thousands of miles of water?